The La Liga TV host eloquently explains about the threat posed by Antonio Conte’s former teammate, Zinedine Zidane.
Parma director Marcello Carli spoke before the game against Inter and said that his team were simply “happy to be here.” Covid had, like for so many Italian clubs, swept through his squad with ease. Carli declared that he they would not use this an excuse and they certainly did not. Parma played with a youthful energy even though it was the veteran Gervinho grabbed a brace. The away side took Inter to task, exposed the lack of pace in the back line and smirked as the Nerazzurri missed chances.
This was not a night for excuses. Inter may have drawn the game 2-2 after Ivan Perisic grabbed a late equaliser but the facts were clear. “It’s not the first game we dominated and yet almost lost. If you don’t score goals in football, you don’t win,” Conte told Sky Sport Italia. He was right, Inter made chances and took none of them, they created 26 attempts on goal in comparison to Parma’s six, it was a story that had been seen before.
“It happened with Borussia Monchengladbach too, Shakhtar Donetsk never had a shot on goal, but we still don’t win games that we dominate.” Conte’s mind had already moved to the game against Real Madrid in the Champions League. The Italian press are billing this double header as a ‘do or die’ affair and the Inter coach knows it. There is a sense of foreboding about this tie; there is little talk of Conte losing his job, so why does this feel so critical.
To understand where the threats lie with Madrid and where the perhaps Inter could find an angle, we spoke to Spanish football journalist, author and commentator, Graham Hunter. We posed a very simple two part question to Graham, firstly we wondered what the coverage before the game was like in Spain in comparison to Italy and more importantly, how Zidane would potentially prepare for this game as his approach to the games against Shakhtar and Borussia Monchengladbach had been arguably insular. Conte’s strategy being ultimately predictable would perhaps provide opportunity for preparation.
When you speak with Graham you do not just get an answer, you get an invitation into a window of Spain. Like Quantum Leap, you feel that like Sam Beckett, you have been transported very briefly to Madrid. This is important, as the answer for the initial question was surprising. The Spanish press, or Madrid press, (up until Friday) had spoken very little about Inter. Even an interview with Fabio Capello in one of the papers simply had a one-liner about the fixture. Graham surmised that, understandably, the most important thing to talk about in Madrid is Real and that in modern times this is becoming more and more normal. Yes, they had coverage about some of the golden fixtures against Monchengladbach but before Inter, nobody is writing about Conte.
“He is regarded with respect, fascination and horror,” Graham’s thoughts on the Nerazzurri ‘mister’ perhaps go hand in hand with how all of Italy view the explosive coach. Former teammate of Zidane the battle will be an intriguing one but when I posed the question of whether Zidane would be too focused on his own side than to prepare for Inter, the response was interesting. It has seemed that Shakhtar, Borussia and Inter were arguably all very predictable in set up and style and it perhaps would be negligent from Zidane only to focus on Madrid but don’t be fooled.
Whilst Graham accepts that whilst Zidane may not spend time focusing on tactically dissecting the opposition, he will make changes and adapt to certain teams. The situation with Madrid is that they can adapt from a common 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 or an irregular 4-2-3-1, they are interchangeable but also somewhat predictable. The examples Graham gives about Karim Benzema dropping deep, Luka Modric attempting to put out fires all over the pitch and Marcelo frankly doing what he wants are commonplace but it does offer unpredictability. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this Madrid side is the faith they have in the coach and the faith that he shows the players. According to the La Liga TV commentator, even when James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale were destined to leave, they still got minutes. Zidane has set up a culture of meritocracy and it pays off.
Looking at the positives for the Nerazzurri, there are areas to look at. Eden Hazard is unlikely to be able to play 180 minutes. It will no doubt be an attacking formation, they are a “play it as you see it team,” this will allow Inter some room to use their typical pressing, aggression and counter attacking prowess. Graham certainly things Inter have the means to cause Madrid problems as they are easy to run past and do not play with pace.
There is certainly one area where Zidane may be able to gain an advantage on Conte and this is a very severe warning from Mr Hunter. Watch out for thee Frenchman’s substitutions. Before the Borussia Monchengladbach, Real had played eight games and in all of these games, a substitute or substitutes had either scored of assisted. Even against Borussia Modric came on and his third last touch was vital. This certainly could be an area where Madrid utilise their squad to the maximum.
Conte will continue to bemoan that Inter need to be clinical, he is right; they create chances but simply are not converting. Perhaps the stage is set for Lautaro Martinez to showcase himself in front of the Spanish media? Even without the cynicism, it will take more than this. Quite simply Inter will need to be the best version of themselves to beat Real Madrid. The Spanish side are by no means invincible but they are an intelligent and savvy team who are making the best of their resources. Conte and Inter need to do exactly the same.
(Thanks to Graham Hunter for his time and insight)